SOMETHING ABOUT THE MARINES.
“Land, ho!” shouted the lookout in the foretop of the Tritonia.
“Where away?” demanded the officer of the deck, as he glanced in the direction the land was expected to be found.
“Broad on the weather bow,” returned the seaman in the foretop.
“Mr. Raimundo,” said the officer of the deck, who was the third lieutenant, calling to the second master.
“Mr. Scott,” replied the officer addressed, touching his cap to his superior.
“You will inform the captain, if you please, that the lookout reports land on the weather bow.”
The second master touched his cap again, and hastened to the cabin to obey the order. The academy squadron, consisting of the steamer American Prince and the topsail schooners Josephine and Tritonia, were bound from Genoa to Barcelona. They had a short and very pleasant passage, and the students on board of all the vessels were in excellent spirits. Though they had been seeing sights through all the preceding year, they were keenly alive to the pleasure of visiting a country so different as Spain from any other they had seen. The weather was warm and pleasant for the season, and the young men were anxiously looking forward to the arrival at Barcelona. On the voyage and while waiting in Genoa, they had studied up all the books in the library that contained any thing about the interesting land they were next to visit.
The Tritonia sailed on the starboard, and the Josephine on the port quarter, of the American Prince. The two consorts had all sail set, and were making about eight knots an hour, which was only half speed for the steamer, to which she had been reduced in order to keep company with the sailing vessels. Though the breeze was tolerably fresh, the sea was smooth, and the vessels had very little motion. The skies were as blue and as clear as skies can ever be; and nothing could be more delicious than the climate.
In the saloon of the steamer and the steerage of the schooners, which were the schoolrooms of the academy squadron, one-half of the students of the fleet were engaged in their studies and recitations. A quarter watch was on duty in each vessel, and the same portion were off duty. But the latter were not idle: they were, for the most part, occupied in reading about the new land they were to visit; and the more ambitious were preparing for the next recitation. Their positions on board for the next month would depend upon their merit-roll; and it was a matter of no little consequence to them whether they were officers or seamen, whether they lived in the cabin or steerage. Some were struggling to retain the places they now held, and others were eager to win what they had not yet attained.
There were from two to half a dozen in each vessel who did only what they were obliged to do, either in scholarship or seamanship. At first, ship’s duty had been novel and pleasant to them; and they had done well for a time,—had even struggled hard with their lessons for the sake of attaining creditable places as officers and seamen. They had been kindly and generously encouraged as long as they deserved it; but, when the novelty had worn away, they dropped back to what they had been before they became students of the academy squadron. Mr. Lowington labored hard over the cases of these fellows; and, next to getting the fleet safely into port, his desire was to reform them.
In the Tritonia were four of them, who had also challenged the attention and interest of Mr. Augustus Pelham, the vice-principal in charge of the vessel, who had formerly been a student in the academy ship, and who had been a wild boy in his time. The interest which Mr. Lowington manifested in these wayward fellows had inspired the vice-principal to follow his example. Possibly the pleasant weather had some influence on the laggards; for they seemed to be very restive and uneasy under restraint as the squadron approached the coast of Spain. All four of them were in the starboard watch, and in the second part thereof, where they had been put so that the vice-principal could know where to find them when he desired to watch them at unusual hours.
The third lieutenant was the officer of the deck, assisted by the second master. The former was planking the weather side of the quarter deck, and the latter was moving about in the waist. The captain came on deck, and looked at the distant coast through his glass; but it was an old story, and he remained on deck but a few minutes. Raimundo, the officer in the waist, was a Spaniard, and the shore on the starboard was that of “his own, his native land.” But this fact did not seem to excite any enthusiasm in his mind: in fact, he really wished it had been somebody else’s native land, and he did not wish to go there. He bestowed more attention upon the four idlers, who had coiled themselves away in the lee side of the waist, than upon the shadowy shore of the home of his ancestors. He was a sharp officer; and this was his reputation on board. He could snuff mischief afar off; and more than one conspiracy had been blighted by his vigilance. He seemed to be gazing at the clear blue sky, and to be enjoying its azure transparency; but he had an eye to the laggards all the time.
“I wonder what those marines are driving at,” said he to himself, after he had studied the familiar phenomenon for a while, and, as it appeared, without any satisfactory result. “I never see those four fellows talking together as long as they have been at it, without an earthquake or some sort of a smash following pretty soon after. I suppose they are going to run away, for that is really the most fashionable sport on board of all the vessels of the fleet.”
Perhaps the second master was right, and perhaps he was wrong. Certainly running away had been the greatest evil that had tried the patience of the principal; but there had been hardly a case of it since the squadron came into the waters of the Mediterranean, and he hoped the practice had gone out of fashion. It had been so unsuccessful, that most of the students regarded it as a played-out expedient.
Raimundo was one of those whom this nautical institution had saved to be a blessing, instead of a curse, to the community; but he was truly reformed, and, over and above his duty as an officer, he was sincerely desirous to save the “marines” from the error of their ways. He did not expect them to uncover their plans all at once, and he was willing to watch and wait.
Having viewed the marines from the officer’s side of the question, we will enter into the counsels of those who were the subjects of this official scrutiny. After the first few months of life in the squadron, these four fellows had been discontented and dissatisfied. They had been transferred from one vessel to another, in the hope that they might find their appropriate sphere; but there seemed to be no sphere below—at least, as far as they had gone—where they could revolve and shine. They had been “sticks,” wherever they were. One country seemed to be about the same as any other to them. They did not like to study; they did not like to “knot and splice;” they did not like to stand watch; they did not like to read even stories, fond as they were of yarns of the coarser sort; they did not like to do any thing but eat, sleep, and loaf about the deck, or, on shore, but to dissipate and indulge in rowdyism. Two of them had been transferred to the Tritonia from the Prince at Genoa, and the other two had been in the schooner but two months.
“I’m as tired as death of this sort of thing,” said Bill Stout, the oldest and biggest fellow of the four.
“I had enough of it in a month after I came on board,” added Ben Pardee, who was lying flat on his back, and gazing listlessly up into the clear blue sky; “but what can a fellow do?”
“Nothing at all,” replied Lon Gibbs. “It’s the same thing from morning to night, from one week’s end to the other.”
“Can’t we get up some sort of an excitement?” asked Bark Lingall, whose first name was Barclay.
“We have tried it on too many times,” answered Ben Pardee, who was perhaps the most prudent of the four. “We never make out any thing. The fellows in the Tritonia are a lot of spoonies, and are afraid to say their souls are their own.”
“They are good little boys, lambs of the chaplain’s fold,” sneered Lon Gibbs. “There is nothing like fun in them.”
“We are almost at the end of the cruise, at any rate,” said Bark Lingall, who seemed to derive great comfort from the fact. “This slavery is almost at an end.”
“I don’t know about that,” added Bill Stout.
“Spain and Portugal are the last countries in Europe we are to visit; and we shall finish them up in three or four weeks more.”
“And what then? we are not to go home and be discharged, as you seem to think,” continued Bill Stout. “We are to go to the West Indies, taking in a lot of islands on the way—I forget what they are.”
“I can stand it better when we are at sea,” said Ben Pardee. “There is more life in it as we are tumbling along in a big sea. Besides, there will be something to see in those islands. These cities of Europe are about the same thing; and, when you have seen one, you have seen the whole of them.”
“I don’t know about that,” suggested Lon Gibbs, who, from the chaplain’s point of view, was the most hopeful of the four; for his education was better than the others, and he had some taste for the wonders of nature and art. “Spain ought to be worth seeing to fellows from the United States of America. I suppose you know that Columbus sailed from this country.”
“Is that so?” laughed Bark Lingall. “I thought he was an Italian; at any rate, we saw the place where he was born, or else it was a fraud.”
“I think you had better read up your history again, and you will find that Columbus was born in Italy, but sailed in the service of Spain,” replied Lon Gibbs.
“That will do!” interposed Bill Stout, turning up his nose. “We don’t want any of that sort of thing in our crowd. If you wish to show off your learning, Lon, you had better go and join the lambs.”
“That’s so. It’s treason to talk that kind of bosh in our company. We have too much of it in the steerage to tolerate any of it when we are by ourselves,” said Ben Pardee.
“I thought you were going to do something about it,” added Bill Stout. “We are utterly disgusted, and we agreed that we could not stand it any longer. We shall go into the next place—I forget the name of it”—
“Barcelona,” added Lon Gibbs, who was rather annoyed at the dense ignorance of his friend.
“Barcelona, then. I suppose it is some one-horse seaport, where we are expected to go into ecstasies over tumble-down old buildings, or pretend that we like to look at a lot of musty pictures. I have had enough of this sort of thing, as I said before. I should like to have a right down good time, such as we had in New York when we went round among the theatres and the beer-shops. That was fun for me. I’m no book-worm, and I don’t pretend to be. I won’t make believe that I enjoy looking at ruins and pictures when it is a bore to me. I will not be a hypocrite, whatever else I am.”
Bill Stout evidently believed that he had some virtue left; and, as he delivered himself of his sentiments, he looked like a much abused and wronged young man.
“Here we are; and in six or eight hours we shall be in Barcelona,” continued Ben Pardee.
“And it is no such one-horse place as you seem to think it is,” added Lon Gibbs. “It is a large city; in fact, the second in size in Spain, and with about the same population as Boston. It is a great commercial place.”
“You have learned the geography by heart,” sneered Bill Stout, who had a hearty contempt for those who knew any thing contained in the books, or at least for those who made any display of their knowledge.
“I like, when I am going to any place, to know something about it,” pleaded Lon, in excuse for his wisdom in regard to Barcelona.
“Are there any beer-shops there, Lon?” asked Bill.
“Then your education has been neglected.”
“Spain is not a beer-drinking country; and I should say you would find no beer-shops there,” continued Lon. “Spain is a wine country; and I have no doubt you will find plenty of wine-shops in Barcelona, and in the other cities of the country.”
“Wine-shops! that will do just as well, and perhaps a little better,” chuckled Bill. “There is no fun where there are no wine or beer shops.”
“What’s the use of talking?” demanded Bark Lingall. “What are the wine or the beer shops to do with us? If we entered one of them, we should be deprived of our liberty, or be put into the brig for twenty-four hours; and that don’t pay.”
“But I want to break away from this thing altogether,” added Bill Stout. “I have been a slave from the first moment I came into the squadron. I never was used to being tied up to every hour and minute in the day. A fellow can’t move without being watched. What they call recreation is as solemn as a prayer-meeting.”
“Well, what do you want to do, Bill?” asked Ben Pardee, as he glanced at the second master, who had halted in his walk in the waist, to overhear, if he could, any word that might be dropped by the party.
“That’s more than I am able to say just at this minute,” replied Bill, pausing till the officer of the watch had moved on. “I want to end this dog’s life, and be my own master once more. I want to get out of this vessel, and out of the fleet.”
“Would you like to get into the steamer?” asked Lon Gibbs.
“I should like that for a short time; but I don’t think I should be satisfied in her for more than a week or two. It was just my luck, when I got out of the Young America, after she went to the bottom, to have the American Prince come to take her place, and leave me out in the cold. No, I don’t want to stay in the steamer; but I should like to be in her a few days, just to see how things are done. All the fellows have to keep strained up in her, even more than in the Tritonia; and that is just the thing I don’t like. In fact, it is just the thing I won’t stand much longer.”
“What are you going to do about it? How are you going to help yourself?” inquired Lon Gibbs. “Here we are, and here we must stay. It is all nonsense to think of such a thing as running away.”
“I want some sort of an excitement, and I’m going to have it too, if I am sent home in some ship-of-war in irons.”
“You are getting desperate, Bill,” laughed Ben Pardee.
“That’s just it, Ben; I am getting desperate. I cannot endure the life I am leading on board of this vessel. It is worse than slavery to me. If you can stand it, you are welcome to do so.”
“We all hate it as bad as you do,” added Bark Lingall, who had the reputation of being the boldest and pluckiest of the bad boys on board of the Tritonia.
“I don’t think you do. If you did, you would be as ready as I am to break the chains that bind us.”
“I think you are ready for business, Bark; but I am not so sure of the others,” he added, glancing into the faces of Lon Gibbs and Ben Pardee.
“I don’t believe in running away,” said the prudent Ben.
“Nor I,” added Lon.
“I knew you were afraid of your own shadows,” sneered Bill.
“We are not afraid of any thing; but so many fellows have tried to run away, and made fools of themselves, that I am not anxious to try it on. The principal always gets the best of it. There were the two fellows, De Forrest and Beckwith, who had been cabin officers, that tried it on. Lowington didn’t seem to care what became of them. But in the end they came back on board, like a couple of sick monkeys, went into the brig like white lambs, and to this day they have to stay on board when the rest of the crew go ashore, in charge of the big boatswain of the ship.”
“Well, what of it? I had as lief stay on board as march in solemn procession with the professors through the old churches of the place we are coming to—what did you say the name of it was?”
“Barcelona,” answered Lon.
“But that’s not the thing, Bill,” protested Ben. “It is not so much the brig and the loss of all shore liberty as it is the being whipped out at your own game.”
“That’s the idea,” added Lon. “When those fellows came on board, though they had been absent for weeks, the principal only laughed at them as he ordered them into the brig. There was not a fellow in the ship who did not feel that they had made fools of themselves. I would rather stay in the brig six months than feel as I know those fellows felt at that moment.”
“I don’t think of running away,” continued Bill. “I have a bigger idea than that in my mind.”
“What is it?” demanded the others, in the same breath.
“I won’t tell you now, and not at all till I know that you can bear it. Desperate cases require desperate remedies; and I’m not sure that any of you are up to it yet.”
No amount of teasing could induce Bill Stout to expose the dark secret that was concealed in his mind; and at noon the watch was relieved, so that they had no other opportunity to talk till the first dog-watch; but the secret came out in due time, and it was nothing less than to burn the Tritonia. Bill believed that her ship’s company could not be accommodated on board of the other vessels, which were all full, and therefore the students would be sent home. At first Bark Lingall was horrified at the proposition; but having talked it over for hours with Bill Stout alone, for the conspirator would not yet trust the secret with Ben Pardee and Lon Gibbs, he came to like the plan, and fully assented to it. He would not consent to do any thing that would expose the life of any person on board. It was not till the following day that Bark came to the conclusion to join in the conspiracy. Towards night, as it was too late to go into port, the order had been signalled from the Prince to stand off and on; and this was done till the next morning.
The plan was discussed in all its details. It was believed that the vessels would be quarantined at Barcelona, and this would afford the best chance to carry out the wicked plot. One of their number was to conceal himself in the hold; and, when all hands had left the vessel, he was to light the fire, and escape the best way he could. If the fleet was not quarantined, the job was to be done when the ship’s company landed to see the city.
At eight bells in the morning, the signal was set on the Prince to stand in for Barcelona. The conspirators found no opportunity to broach the wicked scheme to Ben and Lon. For the next three hours the starboard watch were engaged in their duties. As may be supposed, Bill Stout and Bark Lingall, with their heads full of conspiracy and incendiarism, were in no condition to recite their lessons, even if they had learned them, which they had not done. They were both wofully deficient, and Bill Stout did not pretend to know the first thing about the subject on which he was called upon to recite. The professor was very indignant, and reported them to the vice-principal. Mr. Pelham found them obstinate as well as deficient; and he ordered them to be committed to the brig, and their books to be committed with them. They were to stand their watches on deck, and spend all the rest of the time in the cage, till they were ready to recite the lessons in which they had failed. The “brig” was the ship’s prison.
Mr. Marline, the adult boatswain, took charge of them, and locked them up. The position of the brig had been recently changed, and it was now under the ladder leading from the deck to the steerage. The partitions were hard wood slats, two inches thick and three inches apart. Two stools were the only furniture it contained, though a berth-sack was supplied for each occupant at night. Their food, which was always much plainer than that furnished for the cabin and steerage tables, was passed in to them through an aperture in one side, beneath which was a shelf that served for a table.
Bark looked at Bill, and Bill looked at Bark, when the door had been secured, and the boatswain had left them to their own reflections. Neither of them seemed to be appalled by the situation. They sat down upon the stools facing each other. Bark smiled upon Bill, and Bill smiled in return. This was not the first time they had been occupants of the brig.
“Here we are,” said Bill Stout, in a low tone, after he had made a hasty survey of the prison. “I think this is better than the old brig, and I believe we can be happy here for a few days.”
“What will become of our big plan now, Bill?” asked Bark.
“Hush!” added Bill in his hoarsest whisper, as he looked through the slats of the prison to see if any one was observing them.
“What’s the matter now?” demanded Bark, rather startled by the impressive manner of his companion.
“Not a word,” replied Bill, as he pointed and gesticulated in the direction of the flooring under the ladder.
“Well, what is it?” demanded Bark.
“Don’t you see?” and again he pointed as before.
“I don’t see any thing.”
“Then you are blind! Don’t you see that the new brig has been built over one of the scuttles that lead down into the hold?”
“Don’t say a word, or look at it,” whispered Bill, as he placed his stool over the trap, and looked out into the steerage.
The vice-principal passed the brig at this moment, and nothing more was said.
Categories: English Literature